ChronicleLive launches Laptops for Kids as home-schooling looks set to rumble on

ChronicleLive has helped launch a North East campaign to donate laptops to disadvantaged children being forced to learn from home during lockdown.

All schools in England have been closed until at least February half-term as part of the latest nationwide lockdown — except for vulnerable youngsters and the children of critical workers.

It means millions of pupils across the country once again have moved to online learning for the foreseeable future.

According to new analysis from the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, based on data from Ofcom and ONS, there are at least 55,000 families in the North East without access to a laptop, tablet or desktop computer.

Helen Dalby, audience and content director for Reach in the North East and Yorkshire, said: “The alarming number of children without a suitable device has sparked fears they could fall behind with their education.

“It has also proved to be a logistical nightmare for schools who do not have the provision to provide technology for all pupils in need of support.

“That is why we are supporting the Laptops for Kids campaign and launching it in our region, aiming to close the digital divide among the North East’s disadvantaged youngsters.”

Laptops for Kids is a campaign in conjunction with Northumbrian Water, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership and Sunderland-based IT firms Rebuyer and Code, bidding to make a real difference to those unable to attend school.

The campaign is calling on individuals as well as businesses and organisations throughout the region to support our children in challenging times

Internet compatible devices such as laptops, computers and tablets are wanted which will be wiped and refurbished, if required, before being distributed to those who need it most.

Schools with children in need of a support for remote learning will then be identified with devices being distributed as soon as possible.

Sarah Mulholland, head of policy at the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “Many schools across the North were disproportionately affected by school closures pre-Christmas, meaning children here — particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds — have an even bigger hill to climb when it comes to catch-up.

“The digital divide is far from a new problem. Last March, we called for urgent action from the Department of Education to address the situation.

“Whilst the government has now managed to buy a half a million laptops, there are still many children who need to be given a place in school as they can’t learn from home because they don’t have a device or a quiet space to work.

“We’re now in a race against the clock to provide the necessary technology to all children. Too many pupils, who have already missed the best part of a year of school, are at risk of falling even further behind simply because they don’t have access to a device.

“We’re asking businesses across the region to donate unused laptops, PCs, tablets and chargers, which will then be professionally wiped before they are distributed out to families in need.”

Brendan Tapping, CEO of Bishop Chadwick Catholic Education Trust, which has 13 schools under its wing across the region, said: “This campaign will make a huge difference to students, ensuring they get a high quality resource that enables them to get good connectivity back to schools.

“We can then engage them fully in their learning and mitigate against that gap between vulnerable students and their less disadvantaged peers.

“Some vulnerable families do have access to a device. Others have more than one child in the household and they’re having to share them.

“When there is an expectation that all children have access remote learning at set hours during the school day, it makes that almost impossible which is a significant barrier for those in disadvantaged households.

“The distribution of laptops is great not just for the short-term during lockdown but also the long-term for the workforce and the economy in the North East.”

The campaign has been backed by Labour MP for Sunderland Central Julie Elliott, who said: “As schools are again forced to go back to remote learning, it is absolutely vital that children are not cut off from their education as a result of digital exclusion.”

Nigel Watson, group information services director at Northumbrian Water, said: “With an estimated 55,000 families across the North East not being able to access a digital device, people are being excluded and left behind due to a lack of digital provision. No one organisation can tackle this on their own.

“At Northumbrian Water, we believe that we can harness the community spirit of the North East to demonstrate that tackling digital poverty can be done in a sustainable way through collaboration and innovation.”

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